Perth beat-maker Ta-ku makes comeback for Perth Festival
Regan Mathews does not like to be the centre of attention.
Which poses a dilemma when his alter ego as world-renowned DJ Ta-ku takes top billing for a Perth Festival show called Songs to Experience.
The former international touring beat-maker and artist stepped away from the decks around five years ago, not long after Mathews delivered a mesmerising audio-visual show for Vivid Live at the Sydney Opera House based on his acclaimed EP’s Songs to Break Up To and Songs to Make Up To.
Songs to Experience will be another site-specific blend of eye-popping imagery and entrancing sounds, this time in the centre of the city at Lawson Apartments, which was, until last year, home to the women-only Karrakatta Club.
Chatting quietly in the 11-storey art deco apartment block, Mathews laughs when asked whether he has missed DJing since his appearance at Vivid Live.
“Never,” the 35-year-old chuckles in the empty Lady Onslow Hall. “I was never a great DJ.
“The element of performing live music is not for everyone. It is enjoyable but it’s also pretty stressful at the same time.
“I don’t like being the centre of attention.”
While Mathews chats, Ben Wright — his business partner in creative agency, Pretty Soon — discusses the possibilities of the historic venues with other young creatives.
Songs to Experience will reflect and take inspiration from the Ta-ku album of the same name, which is due out in mid-2022 and features guests such as Wafia, Milan Ring, Becca Hatch and, most notably, Questlove from Philadelphia progressive hip-hop legends, the Roots.
While Mathews has released mixtapes and EPs since 2009, this will be his long-awaited debut.
Despite having a full album to promote, the star will not actually star in what is also his debut performance for Perth Festival.
“It’s always been a bucket list thing to do something for the Perth-fest because I was born and raised here,” says Mathews, who is half-Filipino, half-Maori (or, as he calls himself, “Maoripino”).
“But things have changed for me, because I don’t actually perform live anymore,” he adds. “What does this thing look like if Ta-ku doesn’t DJ live or go out (and play) anymore?
“Over the past five years I’ve fallen into a lot of visual arts and creative direction through the agency I started with Ben.
“That world has led to the idea of doing a multi-room, audio-visual experience where people can walk through and experience my music in a different way. More of an exhibit.”
The erstwhile Karrakatta Club’s members lounge will transform into an airport departure lounge, while the card room is likely to be filled with flowers — a recurring motif in Ta-ku’s work.
“We want each room to have a completely different feel, not only audibly but also visually,” Mathews explains, “to give them insight into what this album is going to look and feel like.”
The history of Lawson Apartments — constructed in 1937, heritage-listed in 1981 and refurbished in 1987 — will also feed into Songs to Experience.
“We definitely want to pay respects to what this was as a heritage building and also the rich history of what it used to be, you know, the K Club and all the ladies that used to come through here,” Mathews offers.
“When we were looking at buildings in which to do this experience, there were a few but this one felt so perfect. We wanted to create in space that was established.
“We could have got a warehouse, for example, and put up fake walls and make people walk through that, but it wouldn’t feel that special.”
The thick walls, stained dark green carpets and Art Deco styling make Lawson Apartments feel “very mysterious and moody”, Mathews continues, “you really don’t know what to expect when you go through that front door”.
Among the 15-20 creatives that will work on the project are Sam Price, who collaborated with Ta-ku on his Vivid Live show, and London-based Joe Mortell, whose three-dimensional designs have featured in the New York Times and Wallpaper, as well as campaigns for Volkswagon, Louis Vuitton, Bosch and Moet Hennessy.
There will also be plenty of young local artists contributing to what festival-goers will experience during the 30-minute session.
“I don’t know how to play any instruments,” Mathews says, “but I know how to work with other people to create something beautiful and enjoy learning from them.”
Asked why he took so much time away from music, the artist simply shrugs.
“I got married,” he laughs. “Then we built a home, got a dog, started a business with my childhood mate, so life just got in the way and music took a bit of a back seat.”
Mathews has known Wright since they were at school. “We both wanted to be DJs. Then it didn’t work out for Ben and he pursued a career as an art director and designer,” he explains.
“He spent some time in New York and came back to have a family, and I came back from touring and we thought it would be cool if we started a business together, seeing that we’re getting older.”
Taking inspiration from Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm, Pretty Soon’s name hints at anticipation and excitement.
“Everything we do has a feeling of arrival,” Mathews says. “We’re excited by our work, which drives what we do.”
Touring the world as Ta-ku, Mathews began taking a camera everywhere he went and, inspired by trips through Japan and Korea, started travel blog Create+Explore.
Eventually big brands wanted to have the cool beat-maker — Justin Timberlake gave his seal of approval to Ta-ku’s remix of Suit and Tie — work on their campaigns.
Red Bull, Puma, Nike, G-Star and Apple are among the companies tapping Pretty Soon for creative direction, while Mathews is currently a brand ambassador for Sony.
“The past five years have been a big eye-opener for me,” he says. “I don’t come from that world.
“When I’m creating for Ta-ku, I’m creating for myself. I’m the client.
“But when you’re creating for a client, it’s not so easy. You have no idea what their personal taste is like, what they’re going to say when you submit something.”
On his website, Mathews is billed as a “multi-disciplinary artist”.
At Lawson Apartments, he describes himself first and foremost as a photographer.
He also runs experimental brand 823 under the umbrella of Pretty Soon.
“We make clothing, we put out records, we put on events,” he explains. “That’s our baby, more or less, that lets us express ourselves outside of client work.”
Mathews also co-owned Westons Barbershop in Northbridge and fashion line Team Cozy, but has recently sold his share in each.
“Westons and Team Cozy taught me about how hard it is to run a business if you’re not there,” he laughs. “You’ve got to be realistic.”
Mathews’ approach to Songs to Experience is more as creative director rather than star performer. He’ll effectively be a ghost in his own machine.
“This is perfect, it’s Ta-ku and Friends,” he says. “It’s not just about me this whole experience. It’s about visual artists that I’m working with, creative minds like the ones in this room.
“That’s what excited me the most, getting people involved in pulling off something I couldn’t do on my own in a thousand years.”
Songs to Experience runs February 11 to March 6 as part of Perth Festival.
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